Many news professionals like to talk about the big stories they’ve covered. I’m among them. But today I’m going to cover some of the big stories I missed. We’ll begin with Monday’s snow and ice “weather event.” I’d scheduled a vacation day Monday. My colleagues covered it while I stayed home, secure in the knowledge that I’d get my fair share of abuse when I returned to work the next day.
Hurricane Hugo. When this hurricane clobbered Charleston in September 1989, I was visiting my grandparents in rural Missouri. To this day, I find myself in conversations beginning with “remember, during Hugo…” Based on those conversations, I feel like I was there. I continually have to remind myself that I wasn’t.
I made up for it by covering Hurricane Andrew in 1992. I showed up in Miami as the wind began to gust. It was a stronger storm that took more lives and did more damage. But folks in Atlanta talk about Hugo, not Andrew.
The Cuban prison riot. I was a backup player for the first day or so of the November 1987 uprising at the Atlanta Federal Prison. Once again, I was scheduled to visit my grandparents. WAGA’s news director at that time was a guy named Mark Hoffman, replacing the guy who hired me, Jack Frazier. Hoffman was unimpressed with me. He raised no objection to my scheduled vacation. When I returned, the siege was one day away from ending. I covered the final day of it in a sidebar / backup role.
Some time later, Hoffman informed me that I needed to start behaving like a large-market reporter. He instructed that I needed to show more “swagger.” He also gave me some practical and useful tips for live reporting.
He backed it up with a one-year contract offer, telling me I had twelve months to get it right or get gone. It was a useful (and highly motivational) conversation. One year later, Hoffman offered me a decent three year contract, then left town. I don’t think I ever thanked the SOB for that bit of tough love; Thanks, Hoffman, wherever you are. (The internet reports that Hoffman is now president of CNBC.)
Tropical Storm Alberto. This was the July 1994 storm that socked South Georgia with flooding, drained Lake Blackshear, and dislodged coffins from graves. On the day the rain started, I left town with photog Steve Zumwalt to spend a week producing stories on professional baseball in Japan. When we got to Tokyo, CNN was carrying Atlanta TV footage of the flooding. When we returned from Japan, the story was beginning to wrap, but crews were fixed at South Georgia locations. I covered baseball, and the upcoming Major League strike.
I missed the flooding story completely. But I’d seen Japan on the company dime. I’d followed the Kobe-based Orix Blue Wave, which engaged the services of former Atlanta Brave Francisco Cabrera. The Blue Wave’s leadoff hitter was a rookie named Ichiro Suzuki.
The Dunwoody tornado. This story broke in April 1998, during a week DeKalb schools took spring break. I’d taken my kids camping at the Okefenokee swamp, then headed to Longboat Key on the Florida gulf coast. When we arrived in Longboat, CNN was showing WAGA’s Dana Fowle reporting live in a helicopter. She was showing aeriel footage of the damage, and talking about “tornadic activity.”
I’d never heard that phrase before. I filed it into my personal dictionary, alongside “vampiric” activity. One day, I hope to use both phrases in the same story.